Two infants die in remote blockaded Syrian refugee camp

Two infants die in remote blockaded Syrian refugee camp
Two infants died on Wednesday in the remote al-Rukban refugee camp, which Russia has threatened to starve of aid if residents refuse to leave.
2 min read
14 March, 2019
Around 50,000 refugees live in the remote desert camp [Anadolu]

Two infants died on Wednesday in the remote al-Rukban refugee camp on the Syria-Jordan border, camp residents said.

One-week-old Fatima and two-week-old Omar died in the camp which has faced brutal winter conditions and a near total blockade on supplies over the past few months, reported Syria Direct.

At least 12 other children have died this winter in Rukban, according to UNICEF.

"Despite repeated warnings, the deaths of children in Rukban... continue to increase at an alarming rate. Since the beginning of the year, one child has died every five days," the organisation said last month.

Around 50,000 civilians live in the desert camp, most of them internally displaced people (IDPs) from Homs, Deir az-Zour, and Deraa. Some 80 percent of the residents are women and children.

Many say Rukban faces some of the worst conditions of any refugee camp in Syria.

Rukban is located inside the al-Tanf "deconfliction zone" set up by the US-led international coalition in 2016.

First set up to train opposition forces for the fight against the Islamic State group, the zone has since been described as a base for monitoring Iranian movements in Syria.

Rukban has become increasingly isolated since Jordan sealed its border with Syria in 2016, after an Islamic State group militant attack on Jordanian border guards left seven officers dead.

Jordan has said they will only allow the transfer of refugees through their territory who have received offers of resettlement, and has blocked cross-border aid.

Residents have complained that Russian and Syrian regime forces have cut off a vital smuggling route that had previously saved residents of the isolated camp from starvation.

Only two aid deliveries have reached Rukban over the past year, the last of which, delivered in early February, residents said would only last a month.

Russia, the Syrian regime's main backer in its eight-year war against civilians and opposition fighters, has urged civilians to leave the camp.

When residents refused to use "humanitarian corridors" set up by Russia last month, Russian forces reportedly threatened to block aid if Rukban residents did not comply and leave the camp.

Russian forces have also said male residents over 18 will face conscription after they leave Rukban, and activists inside the camp fear they could face arrest, torture and even death if they pass into regime-held areas.

Those trapped inside the camp have instead called for international forces to create a humanitarian corridor allowing refugees to travel to northern Syria, which is still held by a patchwork of opposition groups.